Published on the heels of Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life and Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman, Jessie Knadler's Rurally Screwed seems to be part of a new chick lit subgenre: Sex in the City, Out of the City. All three books involve high-heeled city slickers who fall in love with farmers and cowboys, and all involve epiphanies where the author realizes that the simple life can be fabulous, too, at least in its own way, and as long as the cowboy is hot.
Rurally Screwed is at it's best when Knadlera Missoula native and third-generation Montananpushes away from this simplified city mouse-country mouse thesis and concentrates on the more complicated story: What happens when you fall in love with someone who is nothing like you imagined, and also nothing like you?
When the book opens, Knadler is a working at a glossy women's magazine in her adopted city of New York, dating someone who looks good on paper (and in person) but who has disturbing issues not far under the surface. When she returns to her home state to cover the famed Bucking Horse Sale in Miles City, she meets a cowboy who quickly turns from a one-night stand into a new, surprising love. Shockingly soon, she finds herself freelancing remotely from a farmhouse on the outskirts of Lexington, Va., and wondering what exactly she has done for love and whether she has made a big mistake.
The book struggles when the author tries to fit her story into the rigid Sex in the City, Out of the City plot structure that publishing houses and audiences seem to be looking for these days. Early on, she has to explain that she doesn't actually live off of the grid in Lexington, that her love interest isn't technically a cowboy (he grew up in the suburbs on the East Coast) and that she isn't technically a New Yorker (her grandparents were cattle ranchers and she grew up here in town). The climax and resolution feel forced, as if Knadler was fighting hard to get her love story to follow a conventional romantic comedy arc instead of letting it take its natural shape.
But during the sections of the book when Knadler isn't under pressure to follow the latest chick lit trend, and when she focuses on the heart of the matterher unlikely love and her search for what she really wantsher story shines. After her move to rural Virginia, she starts a journey to find out both who she is and where she belongs, a journey that takes her to an evangelical Bible study group, to a motorcycle dealer and to the post office to pick up dozens of chickens. These glimpses of her new life are touching, heartfelt and funny, and Knadler's ability to analyze and process her feelings about her situation make the read even more rewarding.
In addition, all scenes featuring her husband Jake, who is far more than just a cowboy, are well worth a reader's time. The book successfully (and with humor) captures the big, real problem with falling in love: You don't have much of a say about who it's with or what happens next. In the end, her relationship isn't complex or interesting because she's an urbanite and he's a hick, it's because they are two people with different dreams and different needs.
During her first visit to Lexington, Knadler stumbles upon a statue of Stonewall Jackson that is engraved with the general's quote "You may be whatever you resolve to be." This, more than any cut-down city girl epiphany about the trending hipness of homesteading, is at the center of the book. When the labels finally drop away, Knadler is just a few resolutions away from being happy with her odd lifeone that includes moonshine, sewing, enthusiastic canning and a home heated by wood, just as it also includes quirky fashion, occasional trips to New York and, ultimately, a sweet publishing deal.
Here's to hoping that since Knadler so successfully broke out of both her city girl mold and her country girl mold she can also break free of the restrictive chick lit mold in the futureso that her writing can become even more rewarding and significant. We will be waiting to read it here in Missoula.